Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

The Idea

After years of making trips to Asia, I’ve ended up with an airy apartment (well, two apartments really) in Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand.

It’s the major city of the north, an ancient capital, with an old walled town and temples and markets all over, a wonderful place.  There are three universities, perhaps not surprising given the city’s reputation for openness and its beautiful setting in a valley surrounded by steep hills/mountains.  Many NGO’s work out of here, especially those focussed on helping the people along the Thai-Burma border who are refugees from Burma.

Friends and acquaintances, and the possibility of learning and expanding my horizons, are what make a place special, and Chiang Mai continues to be wonderful that way.

The Chiang Mai immersethroughfood project is designed to enable people we know in Chiang Mai to engage (and share their good humor and spirited approach to life and food) with people from other places who are intensely interested in food, people happy to IMMERSE THROUGH FOOD.

And so welcome to this combo cooking-food shopping-eating immersion course. The details are set out below.

We’ve been doing this trip since 2009.  Each year is engaging, intense, and fun.  We go for total immersion: shopping, cooking smelling, tasting, language, laughing, and fun.  And each time it’s great.

The next session, in early 2020, will run from Sunday January 26 to the morning of Saturday February 1, 2020: six nights and five days. 

The idea of this tour is to pay the people here in Thailand who are helping with the tour a wage substantially higher than is usually paid by foreigners to Thais.

Any money left over goes into a fund to be donated to helping children in the refugee camps along the Burma border and on the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia (Here’s the link to KIDS International).

The goal is to bring together the western world and the Thai world, to be of benefit to people in Thailand, and to celebrate life through food.

– naomi


January-February 2020

All the immersethrough sessions we’ve had, every year since 2009, have been fun, rewarding, and very collegial. Next winter there will be one session, with a maximum of seven participants, from Sunday January 26 until the morning of Saturday February 1, 2020.  

Please let me know if you are interested in joining us next January-February.

Immersethrough is less like a tour and more like an intensive cooking school and eating experience rolled into one, with a lot of laughter thrown in for spice…

In all this Fern, my friend and partner-in-immersethrough, is invaluable, really the lynchpin.  She does the cross-cultural go-between work from the Thai side, as I do it from the non-Thai side, and together we find ourselves enjoying the process from morning to night.

The first four days of the tour are the most intensive, a kind of diving in at the deep end.

Participants will shop at Gat Luang, the old market of Chiang Mai, and at Muang Mai, the even more enormous wholesale market, in the morning.  We’ll help you shop for the list of ingredients that we will be using in our cooking session that day.

Walking to the markets and shopping are strenuous and engaging, because there is so much to see, so much to learn.

Two days, of northern Thai food, are taught by Koon Mae, who is a fabulous home-cook who lives in the country north of here.  She is Fern’s mother, and a natural teacher.  She’ll be teaching on the first day, in Chiang Mai, and on day four.

The second day we’ll be making Pa-O food with a young Pa-O woman named Daw. She is from Karen State in Burma. The food of her people is an interesting and delicious blend of Burmese influence and hill people practicality, featuring greens, fermented soy beans, and inventive use of fresh herbs.

Each day, after shopping, everyone will chop, pound in a mortar, and peel and fry and steam and shape food under the direction of the teacher and with guidance from Fern and from me. Then when it’s all done, we’ll sit down together to eat what we’ve made.

Cooking is over traditional charcoal braziers, and chopping and grinding are done the traditional way, using a variety of knives on tamarind cutting boards, and several different kinds of mortar and pestle.  The results are traditional and incomparable.

Rather than pre-written recipes, participants receive a list of ingredients, with quantities marked, and then once we’ve cooked and eaten, we review the method and the ingredients so everyone can make notes and ask questions. This is the way food knowledge is best transmitted, I believe, by hands-on experience, rather than by a pre-set printed list of instructions.

By the time we have done cooking and eating, it’s usually close to 2.30 in the afternoon, so some people feel that a nap or a massage is all they have energy for.  Others will want to head out to explore Chiang Mai on their own in the afternoon.  We’ll meet again in the evening for drinks and supper, another chance to talk about what we’ve done in the day, to compare notes, and to reinforce what we’ve all learned.
The next two days = Wednesday and Thursday – will take place at Fern’s beautiful farm about two and a half hours’ drive north of Chiang Mai. The first day will be focussed on Shan (Tai Yai) food, taught by Boon Ma, a Shan man who came to Thailand from Burma about twenty years ago. Shan food is amazing, and since it has not been much written about, this is a rare chance to engage with a not-well-known and very rich culinary tradition.
The fourth day will again be with Fern’s mother, Koon Mae, but this time at the farm, cooking another menu of North Thai specialties.

On the fifth day (Friday), cooking is back in Chiang Mai.  There’s the wonderful Haw Market, that takes place Fridays only, to explore, and then in the late afternoon we’ll assemble for our last cooking session to make grills and Thai and Burmese salads of many kinds.  They are intensely flavored and often very simple to make, so they translate easily to a North American kitchen (and grill).  Of course you can’t have grilled meat without dipping sauces, so those too are part of the session.

So, to recap the shape of the week:

Itinerary in Detail

Sunday: meet for drinks at 6 and then walk to the market to eatkanom jiin (noodles with curry sauce) and a first taste of street food.
Monday: market shop and then first hands-on cooking class of northern Thai dishes.  Supper at a northern Thai resturant.
Tuesday: as Monday for shopping and cooking, and a meal out in the evening.
Wednesday: We make a very early start this morning. After a two-plus hour drive (including a short stop at a rural market) we’ll reach Fang, in the north Thai hills not far from the Burma border.  We’ll spend a couple of hours at the huge weekly market in Fang, to which people of various ethnicities come bringing vegetables and other food products they’ve produced for sale. The market is one of the great sights of the region. We drive from there about fifteen minutes to Fern’s lychee farm, where we have a hands-on Shan food cooking session with Boon Ma, in the open air

Thursday:  After breakfast at the hotel in Fang, first a drive north into the hills on the Burma border, and then another cooking lesson at the farm, hands-on, with Fern’s mother. We leave mid-afternoon to drive back to Chiang Mai, where we’ll have supper at a beautiful traditional North Thai Restaurant in the old city.

Friday: We’ll be cooking together from about five o’clock on, and then feasting together into the night.

Saturday: Departure day.


Accommodations in Chiang Mai, and on the excursion to Fang, are comfortable and also distinctively Thai.  We’ve found a wonderful hotel in Chiang Mai, the Banthai Village.  It opened a few years ago, is beautiful and calm, located on a lane behind a temple (Wat Bupparam) and only a five minute walk from the apartments.  In Fang we are at the somewhat funky very welcoming Phumanee Home Hotel on Wednesday night, which is run by a group of Lahu people.

All accommodation will be singles, unless we receive a request from two people who wish to share a double. The food we prepare together will be authentic, not adapted for foreign tastes or preferences.


The price, which includes a total of six nights hotel and meals and drinks in Chiang Mai and environs, five days of cooking classes and marketing, and the two day excursion out of town, is US$2850 if you book before September 15 and $3050 after that.

Not included are transportation to and from Chiang Mai, departure taxes, travel documents, or travel insurance, nor items of a personal nature such as laundry, gratuities, special diets.

Sign Up

To sign up, please contact travel agent Deb Olson, my dear friend, and my partner in Immerse Through LLC.  You can reach her by email  at or call her at 307-745-7191.

Deb is a long-time friend and is also a very experienced travel agent. She is widely travelled and very practical and thorough, so I recommend that you consider asking her to make your other travel arrangements too, including booking for any travel you may want to do in the region before the tour starts or after it is over. I recommend that you also ask her about travel insurance.

Before committing to the trip, please read very carefully the terms and conditions that Deb will send you if you are interested in participating. You’ll need to fax to her a signed copy of the terms to indicate that you have read and understood them, and agreed to them; that, along with a deposit of US$1000, will reserve you a place, if available.  The balance of the cost is payable not later than 60 days before the start of the session you are booking.

Preliminary Advice

Please make sure that you have a valid passport, the term of which is longer than six months after the date on which you plan to return home. Once you have booked, Deb will provide you with some more travel advice, for example about what to bring with you, and what to leave at home. The weather is warm in late January in the day, but with cool nights, so plan on layers of light cottons, with a sweater or jacket for the evenings and for air-conditioned places, and comfortable shoes or sandals.  I also recommend that you bring earplugs; the tropics can be a noisy place to sleep for light sleepers.